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3 Ways To Engage Introverts At Work

A few years back, I led a training session for a group of leaders. It was one of those groups that no matter what I tried, I could barely get them talking. Leaving for the day, I was convinced that group thought I was nuts and found no value in the content. Then something strange happened. I received more follow up messages and thoughtful questions from participants in that group than most other sessions I’d led. What I was convinced was a total flop ended up simply being a group of mostly introverted leaders who spend their time taking in all of the information and reflection on it later.

It’s tempting to feel frustrated when people come to meetings and remain quiet. If I’m being honest, it’s so easy to place judgment and think they aren’t interested, present or engaged. I often think they don’t like me or anything we’re discussing! My inner critic was really on fire here, generating many reasons why they were showing up in that way.

Reclaiming Our Energy

It wasn't until about 2013 when I read a the book, Quiet by Susan Cain, that I had a freeing a-ha! moment. I was an introvert. I started digging into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) preferences, and learned that being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m anti-social or a poor communicator. Like the training attendees I was previously judging, I discovered I may also be more quiet in meeting rooms. I, too, think of all the good questions after the meeting. I thought, here I am judging these people for the same things that I do. It’s not that the quiet ones don’t care, it’s that we take in information and gain our energy in a different way than our more talkative, extroverted colleagues.

Because our office environments are naturally built for extroverts, I dug into learning about the differences between introversion and extroversion. After all, since up to 50% of the population are introverts, it became clear to me that this was critical to extracting the best qualities and creativity of both types of people at work for innovation, revenue and well-being.

If you look around our offices today, they are removing office walls and building desks in open spaces. We sit in endless meetings that rely on a verbal exchange of ideas. Our training and strategy sessions love to integrate lively brainstorming to create business innovations. This type of constant community is perfect for the extroverted colleague who gains their energy and creativity by have a full calendar of activities that allow them to interact with people. This hinders the creativity of the introvert who gains their energy and innovation through writing, reflection, and solo activities.

A good clue on if you're an introvert or an extrovert is to imagine that you spent an entire day at a seminar or conference. After the full day conference is over, are you reaching out to people to plan supper, happy hour or events to fill your evening? If you are looking for the party after the party, you're probably an extrovert. If that sounds exhausting to you and all you can think about is going back your house or hotel room for our hour of quiet time before you are ready for human consumption again, you might be an introvert. If you’re like me, you may be “peopled-out” for the day and full comfortable putting on your pajamas at 6pm, ordering delivery, and relaxing solo. It's not that you don't like the people, it's just that you need time to recover and recharge to process everything you learned that day and allow your creativity to go to work.

Three Ways to Get Introverts Talking

Through this discovery of my own introversion and researching more about these energetic approaches to life, I learned a few things that were helpful in getting introverts more engaged at work by tapping some of their natural creativity sources.

Give them time to prep.

A simple tip I learned while working for an introverted leader and leading a team with 50% extroverts, is to send agendas in advance. Whether it’s a 1-1 meeting or a group event, the extroverts will appreciate the communication (whether they read it fully or not). Introverts appreciate the advance notice to review the topics so they can begin analyzing and collecting thoughtful ideas. They can reflect in advance, make notes with their ideas, and they'll come prepared to the meeting ready to talk because already had the chance to prepare their thoughts.

Give them time to reflect.

Sometimes, we have to do impromptu brainstorming or discussions. It’s just the way of business and life. After a bit of talking, ideating and debating questions, don’t be surprised if an introvert asks for some time to think about it and come back you with an answer. That doesn't mean that they're not engaged in the topic. I know there's been times, even as an introvert myself, I might even take someone’s response to me that way. Instead of doubting whether or not they desire to help, reframe the situation as one where this person could be wise enough to know that they can help you best when they have time and space to analyze and reflect. Many times, you might find they come back to you with well thought out ideas and suggestions. It may come back to you in writing. Another power of introverts is the ability to better express themselves in writing instead of verbal conversation.

Give them time to rest.

If you have introverted colleagues on your team or in your life, what are some natural ways that you can encourage rest and reflection throughout the day? Are you noticing that they're in all day meetings or projects with minimal breaks? Encourage them to take a walk or leave the building for a bit. If you’re the introvert in meetings all day, discover what you can dump from your calendar to build in refueling time to get curious and create. Rest is oftentimes a source of creativity for introverts, whereas solo rest can feel a little bit stressful for an extrovert.

Both introverts and extroverts make wildly successful colleagues, leaders and partners. One type is not better than the other and it’s helpful to remember our workplaces are naturally built for extroverts. Given this, what could you accomplish if you discovered resources to enable 50% of your workforce to show up as their most confident and creative selves? We need both types. They contribute to ideas and success and results both in an equal manner, but their approach is unique.

Want to learn more about how you gain your energy, take in information, make decisions and approach your life? And why you tend to conflict in those areas with others? Check out the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you can take a free test at Take it when you feel like your most essential self for the best results. I am an INTJ – I’d love to know your type and how knowing this has helped you!

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